Don’t cry for me Argentina, the girl from Ipanema- why didn’t anyone pen a verse about Chile? Surely its wild extremities provide the perfect backdrop for any artist? One of the world’s most beautiful countries, located in South America often falls under the radar but it’s a land steeped in intriguing history and culture, sprawling enigmatic landscapes and vibrant cities. Here are 12 reasons why we think you should add Chile to your travel bucket list…
The Torres del Paine National Park
This beautiful national park stretches for over 180,000 hectares and there are designated paths for visitors and also comfortable hotels which offer unforgettable overnight opportunities. If you are feeling more adventurous and don’t fancy a simple stroll to the acres of grassland, why not jump into the saddle and ride Western-style through the grass or test your fitness on the mountaineering circuit? However, whether you walk, ride or hike through the area, you are bound to come across some of Argentina’s unique flora and fauna which ranges from the bent-over bushes of Magallanes to the Patagonian Sierra-Finch.
It’s still an under the radar travel destination
Until recent years Chile was well and truly off the travellers agenda – it was too distant, too underdeveloped, too expensive to tempt the masses. Now, however, this is slowly changing – its capital Santiago for example is now competing with the more popular South American cities like Rio, Mexico City and Lima. Chile seems to encapsulate so many needs and wants of travellers; good food and nightlife, beaches, natural wonders, extensive culture and a captivating history. There is a certain old-world European elegance to the country which is still infused with vibrancy and vitality that is distinctly South American, but you can be certain that you’ll always still be able to escape the crowds!
There is nothing like sipping a drink in the land of its origin and the Chileans take their wine very seriously and much effort is put in to perfecting the process. Many operators spend long (labourious!) hours ‘researching’ wineries from the very big to the very small, to craft wine tours for wine lovers on their arrival. These tours completely reflect the passion that the Chileans have and go far beyond the simple cellar tour but open up vineyards that are not normally accessible, have guest speakers and lecturers to discuss the process but most excitedly, they give you an opportunity to explore the backroads of wine country by bike or even helicopter!
You can follow in Che Guevara’s footsteps
The “Che Route” incorporates the other surrounding nations that were impacted by Che Guevara but the part that focusses on Chile, begins in the bustling capital of Santiago de Chile. It is possible to stand at the Cerro Santa Luciá exactly where he stood as mentioned in his book and marvel at the national monument park that exists there today. It continues on through the country capturing moments from his history or book. It offers visitors a rich and vibrant outlook and an opportunity to encounter locals who are too busy living life to care about los politicos! There are plenty of tour operators offering visitors a chance to emulate the journey captured by the movie Motorcycle Diaries- motorbike optional.
You can go sand or (volcano) boarding!
Sandboarding you’ve heard of and it has spread all over the world, but Chileans don’t do things by halves and now offer, volcano boarding! The protective clothing element of this activity is not sexy- the plastic glasses, workman gloves, overalls and all this in the baking heat! Don’t worry – once you launch yourself down the all-black, lava-filled volcano on your wooden toboggan you’ll forget all about how your bum looks in the overalls! The hard part is always the walk to the summit but the surreal experience of slip-sliding down the slope of a volcano in a moon suit makes it all worthwhile!
Everyone should experience viewing the stars from the Atacama Desert at least once in their lifetime
Once you arrive in Chile you will be amazed at the variety of tours being offered to the Atacama Desert. There are long expeditions that suit serious hikers and there are more low-key versions for those who just want a taste of the desert experience. Most tours will include an astrological guide to explain the constellations, visits to local villages to view traditional arts and crafts and a traditional meal cooked in the desert itself. There can be extensive walking but the views are spectacular and it’s all worth it to lie in the quiet desert looking up at an unblemished sky counting the stars, maybe even catch sight of a falling star and make a wish.
The unspoilt beaches…
Chile has an extensive stretch of coastline, over 4,000 kilometres to be exact, winding its way all along the coast from Peru to Magellan’s eponymous straits. In between that vast expanse, there is a mix and variety of beaches to suit all types of travellers – from watersport enthusiasts to sunbathers. Rocky cliffs inundated with coves and protected little nooks and crannies give way to long cold water stretches more suited to diving, and eventually ending with the popular beaches like, El Norte Chico where the climate is similar to the Med or California and ideal for paddlers!
….dnd the incredible mountains and volcanos
Chile is home to 2,000 volcanoes- not all of them active but it is definitely a key part of the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire. Although there have been eruptions consistently in certain parts of the craggy line of peaks which makes the area problematic at times, there are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of this natural playground. There’s nothing quite like hiking up softly steaming volcano, take in the view and maybe ski, toboggan or walk back down. Obviously, it is not possible to do this all the time but when the going is good, definitely take advantage. Where else would you get it?!
You can go skiing just outside the capital
The excitement begins at Valle Nevado- although there are other places within driving distance of Santiago, this is considered “the local mountain” but also happens to be one of South America’s most modern ski centres. These are not slopes for the faint-hearted with ferocious hairpins and steep bends but there is always the possibility of coming for the view and the apres-ski- the resort offers lots of excellent hotels and self-catering apartments. August is the height of the ski season in South America- and the snow is excellent!
It’s home to some cute animals
Chile has a diverse animal kingdom to the extremes of its environs – it is a land of formidable borders, to the west the powerful Pacific and then the lofty Andes and the desolate Atacama. It is not surprising that variety of flora and fauna consider the corners of Chile their home. The shy pygmy deer is not found anywhere else in the world while the alpaca and llama make the Atacama their home. It is not unusual to spot a Puma slinking through the Patagonian landscape or be mesmerised by the cheeky call of hummingbirds or the eerie coo of the condor as it soars above your head. Along the coastline you will find another impressive type of bird – Penguins, the Humbolt, Magellanic and King- though it is the Magellanic that truly calls Chile home.
Santiago is a pretty cool city
The capital of Santiago offers everything that you expect from a South American capital city, a certain sense of character and charisma that the rest of the world admires. The increasingly cool city of Santiago, which is really coming into its own, is offering itself up as the hip, stylish and younger sister of Rio and Buenos Aires. There is a hum to this city that makes it tick – the neighbourhood feel to it makes visitors feel at home, rather than overwhelmed by city life. Ultimately, it oozes vibrancy, vitality and colour, this city is one on the move, on the up, growing and developing and the people are only too happy to show you around.
It’s safer than you might think
It’s easy to tar Chile with the same brush as other South American countries which are renowned for their corruption, gangs and violence. Chile has enjoyed a relatively stable (bar a couple of blips) history and a long tradition of affluence and non-corruption. Travelling here is particularly easy, all Chileans want to show off what their country has to offer and make it easy for visitors here. While it is still always wise to be mindful of your belongings etc, this is a good place to kick off a South American tour.
How to get there
Chile has direct connections with North America, the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand (as well as its neighbouring countries). You can often get good deals with international flights within South America unless they are purchased as part of intercontinental travel. LAN Airlines is the flag carrier of Chile and is one of the largest airlines in Latin America, they offer flights both internationally and across the rest of South America.